Dream street must’ve been where Colton Herta went at during Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He led all but three laps in the 100-lap event to score his fourth career NTT IndyCar Series victory.
Following a tough exit at Barber, Colton Herta was already thinking about St. Pete and it showed with his performance. Despite Herta giving the field a bit of a whooping, his arms were blistered and he was winded after getting out of his No. 26 Honda.
“Great to kind of reset after last weekend,” said the 21-year-old. “It gives such a big confidence boost to everybody involved in the team.”
The man that Colton Herta had to hold off in the closing laps was Josef Newgarden, who also had a strong rebound. Even on red compounds, Newgarden had two opportunities of putting pressure on Herta, but came up 2.4933 seconds short.
“It was very difficult. Josef in the last stint breathing down my neck the whole time, couldn’t give me an inch,” Herta commented. “That’s what you want to see in INDYCAR. You want to see good hard racing and that’s what we saw there at the end was me and Josef pushing it to the absolute limit.”
Sunday’s triumph marked Colton Herta’s first win on a street course. As for car number 26, it’s the first time it won it has been in victory lane since Takuma Sato won the 2017 Indy 500. Due to the victory, Herta gained an astonishing 17 spots and now sits fourth in points.
On the other hand, points leader Alex Palou didn’t have the strongest day as he finished a disappointing 17th. However, the Spaniard hangs onto the championship lead by two points over Will Power and Scott Dixon.
Guiding Colton Herta over the radio was his father Bryan, who now shares four wins apiece. The proud father admitted those finale restarts were worrisome because of Newgarden being on red compounds.
“I’m super proud of him. We had a game plan and executed really well,” said Bryan. “Didn’t want to see those couple of late race yellows. We know what a great competitor Josef. When you put him on red tires on restarts, we knew we were going to have our hands full. Colton didn’t put a foot wrong and brought it home in first, so I couldn’t be any happier.”
Entering St. Pete, Newgarden was going for an unprecedented three straight wins in Florida. It wasn’t in the cards as he couldn’t match Colton Herta’s pace. Nevertheless, it was a solid turnaround after his Lap 1 fiasco last Sunday.
“It would have been nice to put three in a row together. That would have been pretty sweet. But it was important for us to get on the board,” said Newgarden. “Good bounce back by the entire crew and the team. To get some good points is really what we needed today, so we accomplished that.”
The brightest car on the 24-car grid had a quiet, yet much needed showing. After not scoring a podium since winning at Iowa Race No. 1 last July, Pagenaud was pleased with his weekend.
“Very good street course run. Awesome. Very happy all weekend. I couldn’t ask for a better car,” said Pagenaud. “Great strategy. Fantastic looking car. It made social media for sure. Australian Gold is a new partner for Menards. I hope we get to see that gold car more often.”
Double Cautions for Jimmie
Rookie Jimmie Johnson had a disastrous second race in his young IndyCar career. There’s no question about it after finishing five laps down in 23rd.
Out of the race’s three full course cautions, Johnson was the cause of two of them. The first occurred on lap 17 when his No. 48 Carvana Honda went off in turn 13. He made contact into the tire barriers and couldn’t get the car refired to reverse it. Due to this, the caution had to come out and lost laps in the progress.
The race resumed on lap 20 and stayed under green for 53 laps until Johnson spun in Turn 3. Following his final scheduled stop, Johnson’s car lost control and made wall contact. This resulted in a few more laps lost for Johnson, but he was able to finish the race.
“I made two mistakes on older tires. Felt the car loosing some grip and being more difficult to drive. I thought I could stay on top of it,” Johnson said about his woeful afternoon. “I just got behind into (turn) 13 and locked up the fronts. Had a really loose car on the high-speed stuff and it got away from me in turn 3. Both situations needed to put a new wing on the front and was able to get back out.”
Johnson will have to wait until the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis in three weeks to race again. Former series champion Tony Kanaan will run the Texas doubleheader next weekend.
One incident that didn’t brought a caution but ruined driver’s days occurred on lap 37. A battle for track position went awry for Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal. Rossi had just exited out of pit road and felt he gave Rahal enough room to battle.
Both tangled in Turn 4, cutting Rossi’s right front tire down and nearly sent both into the turn 5 tire barriers. Despite both continuing their race, it put them in a bad spot in their title aspirations after two races. There were hard feelings for each other because it was deemed a racing incident in their eyes.
“I don’t think it was intentional on anyone’s behalf. It was racing thing because we all know how hard it is to pass,” said Rossi. “Track position is everything in these races. Our car was fantastic. I think we had a shot at a top-five or a podium, but it wasn’t meant to be again.”
Tremendous Charge by Power
Qualifying has been Power’s foray for the longest of time. That wasn’t the case this weekend as the eight-time St. Pete pole sitter rolled off 20th. Without the cautions that would put him in a good race strategy, it could’ve been a disappointing result.
There wasn’t a driver that benefitted most from the three caution periods than Power, who’ll stay with Penske through 2023. His No. 12 Verizon 5G Chevrolet pick pocketed the competition and crossed the line in eighth.
“Really solid day for us. Inside the top 10 was our goal after qualifying went disappointing,” said Power. “Solid pit stops. We tried to catch few yellows that would’ve got me a top five but it didn’t work out. Passed quite a few cars on the track. The car did well, so we’re pretty happy with a top 10.”
Lone Star State Doubleheader
The next two rounds of the championship will take place at Texas Motor Speedway. It’s one of only three oval venues and the only one being held twice.
Scott Dixon, who finished fifth at St. Pete, won last year’s race that marked the season opener. Like Herta’s performance on Sunday, Dixon put on a clinic at Texas, who led a race-high 157 of 200 laps.
St. Petersburg Top 10 Results: Herta, Newgarden, Pagenaud, Harvey, Dixon, Sato, Ericsson, Power, VeeKay and Bourdais